Questions to ask your doctor
“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.”
Ever since I was a child I had felt intimidated and fearful of doctors;
I am not sure why because between first memory and age 11 I only ever
recall seeing a doctor once and my parents never ever spoke negatively of
doctors. It may have had something to do with my father being ill and
me fearing the worst and associating that with doctors who visited the
family home. Mother was also at times seriously ill and again I feared the
worse. That said, I was in my twenties before I lost my fear of medical
appointments and felt able to speak up for myself and not see “doctor as
But I am aware in conversations with friends and clients that some adults,
often in to later years, can feel quite timid if not intimidated when having
to discuss with or question those whom they perceive to be “experts” –
and this is particularly true in the doctor patient relationship.
If this is you, perhaps trace back to the cause of this belief. Perhaps you could benefit by reframing how you view and treat doctors? As equal human beings.
Why do you give your power away to your perception of the doctor as expert or power? They only know what they know and what their training or research has given them. They have a level of expertise and knowledge but how skilled are they, how up to date are they. By all means respect them but do not accord them the status of the almighty. Going armed with confident intentions and questions can help redress the balance and put you in a position of equal humanity.
Here are some pointers that might help you assert your rights to health and well-being.
Believe in yourself. Have desire (know what you want) Belief (a belief in what is possible) anad Certainty (a beliefthat you have a right to great health and well-being.)
Go prepared – if you are going to find things difficult, write things down – your symptoms, when you first noticed them, what makes them better / worse, their duration / intensity, their effects (physical and mental,) any medications / non-prescription meds you are taking – take a friend
Ask for anything which will provide you with greater privacy or comfort, especially if in hospital and surrounded by other patients.
If your doctor makes a diagnosis, ask him or her to explain fully your condition – not just be given a name of a condition. Ask what may have caused it, what is going on in your body. If you get medical jargon which you do not understand, ask for a simpler explanation or even illustrations if necessary.
Ask if there are ways, other than drugs, surgery, or what is being proposed, to deal with your issue or condition. What are the different treatment options? I need information to help me decide.
Ask what would happen if you decline the proposed treatment.
What outcome should I expect? How soon?
How will I hear about my test results? Do I ring the clinic or do you get in touch with me and if so how?
Do we have to do this now, or can we review it later?
If your doctor is unable to make a diagnosis, and in my own experience I often get, “I don’t know what this is or what’s going on, or what’s causing it” – politely say that something has to be triggering your condition and efforts must continue until you can establish the cause. (You may need to go privately or explore different approaches to medicine and health care but do not give up easily with the NHS … in these days of demands on the NHS, especially time, it can be too easy to say to pass up on chronic health conditions.)
Be prepared, having done your research and heeded any intuitive nudgings, ie sometimes we just get a hit from listening to our body, to politely suggest to your doctor what you think may be going on for you.
Ask about possible side-effects to be aware of from drugs prescribed. True there is an information sheet inside your medication box and you can study this at leisure but I would still ask your doctor. It can reveal how much they know about the drug.
If necessary ask for a second or even third opinion. I was once told by a consultant that I had no problems. He insisted. I too insisted. Something was causing me not to breath during the night. I insisted on a second opinion. He got angry. But a few weeks later I saw another consultant, who arranged for various scans and specialist appointments. In the end I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and also had obstructions on nasal turbinate which required surgical treatment. Do not be fobbed off.
If a surgical procedure is advised, before you agree ask for a full description of the procedure, possible side-effects, any lack of mobility or function you may endure post-procedure.
Be prepared to refuse treatment if you cannot get satisfactory answers. It is your body. You have to live with the consequences of treatment.
Pleasantly ask anyone proposing they treat you what their experience is in your condition, what outcomes have they had, how many people tend to improve.
What lifestyle changes do you need to make? Ask is there anything you can do on your own to improve your condition? Nutrition, movement, change of attitude?
What questions haven’t you asked that you should / could have?
Do not be intimidated by doctors who deride your use of the internet; there are many highly competent sources, many of them official websites run by governments and eg the NHS. Compare and contrast the websites you consult.
If appropriate, be prepared to express your displeasure at any convenience eg in having to always wait each time you attend a clinic.
To cover even a glimmer of the above is a tall order in a ten minute appointment (which is why the NHS approach to ten minute appointments is no longer appropriate.) If necessary book a double or repeat appointment and do not let your doctor or consultant deviate you off-track. (I once had a doctor who, over four sessions, kept ignoring my protestations that there was a serious issue – he kept going down other rabbit holes. This bunny ended up being rushed to hospital one midnight with sepsis and given four hours to live.)
If paying privately
Ask for a fee schedule before making an appointment or agreeing to treatment.
Ask for a generic drug prescription which is usually less expensive than a brand name.
The paradigm has to change
It is appreciated that to cover the above with the degree of thoroughness that may be needed cannot be done in the usual ten minute appointment.
The doctor did not devise the limited-time-appointment system - so be understanding.
But equally neither did you - so be prepared to be radical until you get answers.
GPs know they are facing increasing challenges which are affecting their ability to deliver services as they and we would expect.
According to the British Medical Association , doctors report there is not enough time to meet all the needs of their patients. Demands for appointments keep rising and older and vulnerable people with multi-complex and chronic issues need more time with their GP. Pressures on the system are resulting in GPs retiring early and doctors not choosing general practice as a career. The pool of doctors seems to be diminishing.
The BMA is calling for long term, sustainable investment particularly in GP services. But the simple answer is not just more money or resources to service the present dysfunctional system.
Systems need to change too. The medical model or paradigm needs to change. We need a system which at least explores the cause of illness instead of being symptom driven and about symptom management and can spend time with a patient looking at interconnecting issues, conditions, and factors.
If your interest is in a special medical condition eg cancer or diabetes, research on the web under, “Questions to ask a doctor concerning (TOPIC)”